A recent commercial called ‘Reception’ shows four guys in a four-door Chevy Silverado, driving along roads in various remote areas. Once in a while the driver asks, “Anything?”
The guy riding shotgun looks at his cell phone and says, “Nope.”
This keeps up until they’re way up in some mountains, and the guy with the phone looks at it and says, “Finally.” So they all get out of the pickup.
Then you see the cell phone screen, which says ‘No Signal.’
Getting away from it all means different things to different people. I have friends whose idea of a primitive camping trip is staying in a motel without room service. I have other friends who laugh at people who take tents and sleeping bags with them. And I have friends who feed Alka-Seltzer to seagulls, to watch them explode, but I try not to go camping with them.
But no matter what your definition of ‘remote camping spot’ is, SAR (Search & Rescue) people have their own definition of it – ‘Someplace we’ll have to rescue you from.’ The more remote, of course, the more trouble it is to get there and save you, and the longer it will take. Bear that in mind the next time you decide to go out and find yourself by going out and losing yourself.
Lawrence Bishop, the 64-year-old head of the Santa Barbara, California Parks & Recreation Department, didn’t plan to get stranded on the side of a mountain when he went on a hike with friends in the Sierra National Forest recently, but that’s how things turned out. As the saying goes – ‘Slipping, banging your head, and getting stuck on a ledge for two days is what happens while you’re making other plans.’
Bishop got separated from his group when he took a detour to take some photos from the top of Dog Tooth Peak. He decided to climb down the steep granite face of the cliff, and managed to slip and hit his head on a rock. He ended up on a small ledge in the middle of a bunch of smooth rock plates, and couldn’t get down.
With no food, no water, not even a book of sudoku puzzles, Bishop sat on that ledge for over two days before someone saw him and called in the SAR people. Which is probably not the best advertisement for Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation, but there you go.
So Bishop’s hike turned out to be not much of a picnic, but at least he had an easier time than William LaFever. William, a 28-year-old autistic man, recently gave up his Colorado Springs apartment, along with most of his belongings, and hitchhiked to Utah. He was headed into the desert, evidently to live there, based on a belief that he was an American Indian. Unfortunately, right after William got to Boulder, all his gear and money were stolen, and he was left with only his dog.
Still, William persevered, which must have been difficult, given that he was trying to catch rides with a dog along. A lot of people would probably decline to take on a fellow with a dog, although having a dog, I believe, should vouch for the hitchhiker’s character a lot better than not having one. But that’s me.
In defense of William’s family, they tried to talk him out of going to Utah, but he was adamant. From Boulder he called his father, who wired money to Page, Arizona, and told William to catch a ride there. But William apparently had other plans.
He decided to hike down the Escalante River and try to hitch a boat ride somewhere along Lake Powell to get to Page. He was obviously vague on how far he would have to walk, and how unforgiving the desert is out there. I haven’t been in southeastern Utah for about eight years, and the desert still hasn’t forgiven me.
Anyway, no one knows exactly how long William wandered the desert, but rescuers found him sitting in the river over a month after his last phone conversation with his dad. He had started out with no food or other gear, and by the time he was found he had nothing left but his underwear. The dog must have run off at some point, too.
But despite being dehydrated and malnourished, William was in remarkably good spirits. He wasn’t in a big hurry to get on the helicopter, and it took the SAR team about ten minutes to talk him into it. I don’t blame him. Those things are nothing but a crash looking for a place to happen.
The bottom line is that neither of these two people panicked about the situations they found themselves in, which would probably have been fatal in either case. So if you get lost or stranded in a desert environment at some point, never panic. No matter how much fun it would be.
The good news is that both of these guys survived their ordeal, and neither one turned out to be the Utah goat man. That guy, who was videoed recently hanging around with some mountain goats near Salt Lake City, turned out to be a fellow from southern California (where else?) who was testing a ‘goat suit’ he plans to use on a hunt in Canada next year.
On second thought, maybe we should all go ahead and panic . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who owns his own gorilla suit. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org